We, the Government
By HUGH & COLLEEN GANTZER
Tourism is not a frivolous activity, as some of our ill-informed netas and babus believe.
Their ignorant bias is based on the Kala Pani phobia. At one time, people who crossed the dark waters of the ocean were deemed to be outcast. Because of that inherited fear, many of our righteous leaders have an in-built revulsion to tourism often viewing it as just another Western aberration. A former PM objected to the cocktail parties given during most tourism conventions and wanted more ‘business sessions’. He refused to believe that a large amount of business is transacted during such informal gatherings.
Regardless of such insular attitudes, what was the real status of Travel & Tourism before Covid-19 delivered a body blow to this international industry? It was the most powerful, income-generating, economic activity in the world. Its multiplier-effect, (the number of times a single unit of currency changes owners and thereby multiplies in value) was the highest of all industries.
And it saved at least one little country.
After WWII, Austria lay wedged between two hostile neighbours: the Communist and the Capitalist blocs. It had been ravaged by the war, but if the Austrians accepted aid from one side, the other would object. Then someone suggested that they should publicise their little-used ski slopes. They did that and flocks of rich skiers from around the world opened their secret Swiss coffers and poured in. Austria has never looked back.
We have an estimated 16,500 villages in Uttarakhand of which about 700 are Ghost Villages, abandoned by their inhabitants in search of urban jobs. Many of these gaons have small perennial streams flowing near them. Two such streams were tapped to provide electricity to Mussoorie many decades ago, making its Municipality one of the richest in India, leading to the development of Mussoorie, Rajpur, Dehradun and Clement Town. That miracle can be replicated all across our state, today.
We must not, however, use that scheme to push a sectarian agenda.
Dubai belongs to an Emir. So do many of its oil-rich neighbours. But the forward-looking ruler of Dubai realised that his fossil-fuel reserves would not last forever. So he opened his country to International tourists by using Dubai’s natural resources.
On our two visits to his country, we were taken Dune Bashing in Dune Buggies, Wadi Bashing in special Jeeps, a sunset cruise on a luxury dhow and a visit to an oasis resort in which every guest bungalow had a swimming pool to which herds of wild Oryx antelope came down to drink.
Most importantly, we stayed in an ultra-luxury, twin-towered, hotel. Their buffet breakfast, in this Islamic country, had a special Pork counter for non-Muslim guests.
When, however, we suggested that similar counters be opened for banned foods in our luxury sarkari hotels, our mantri said, “I have never had such food in my family, so I cannot permit it!” In other words the ban was based on his personal whim! The ‘M’ in the initials of the designations of our Ministers, MPs, MLAs and Magistrates does not stand for ‘Maharajas’ but for ‘Mazdoors’. They are the workers of the voters of India, paid to serve the interests of their employers. They are the servants of We, the Government.
Expectedly, that mantri was a miserable misfit.
Tourism is a multi-ethnic global industry. Any attempt to impose sectarian taboos on it is likely to be strongly resisted in a post-Pandemic world. The virus has shown the common vulnerability of all humans. We were encouraged to read that the state cabinet has granted concessions to the Tourism Sector (GP 14-5-2020), but this is rather like fluffing up the pillows of a patient in the ICU: it adds to his comfort not to his cure.
Concessions are useless unless there are tourists. How do we attract tourists?
Tourists look for variety
We have subtle differences in the culture, festivals, dress and cuisine of our mountain communities. We should study them, emphasise them, rely on them when marketing the high potential of Dev Bhoomi. It should be a tightly targeted campaign.
Since we can’t afford high numbers, we must encourage high spenders to flock to Uttarakhand.
For Uttarakhandis, Tourism is a very serious business.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)